A largely 19th century village, one of it’s finest buildings is the Catholic Church (1813), with it’s iron gates and gate piers oddly tucked in behind other buildings. The old Church of Ireland (1814) is now a heritage centre and library. Nearby are the ruins of Brittas House (1869), a gothic mansion set in the remains of grounds still containing exceptional specimens of trees, shrubs and plants.
About 3 kilometres south are the ruins of Castlecuffe, Sir Charles Coote’s early 17th century fortified dwelling. Nearby Castletown is home to the Dunne clan rally.
Brittas Lake has a pleasant nature walk and picnic area.
History of Clonaslee
Clonaslee used to be part of the barony of Tinnahinch until 1828 when it, along with Rosenallis, became a distinct parish. The existing parish of Clonaslee comprises the whole of the ancient parish of Kilmanman, and a portion of that of Rerymore. The name Cluain na Slighe’ translates literally as ‘roadside meadow’, and this derivation of the name could be related to the siting of the coach road. However, an earlier spelling gives us Cloneslieu which means Cluain na Sléibhe or ‘the mountain meadow’.
The more ancient name of the parish is Kilmanman, which it derives from St. Manman, one of the early Irish Saints, who founded a Church here, sometime in the 7th century.The old parish Church stands in ruins in the townland of Kilmanman, at a distance of about a mile and a half from the village of Clonaslee.
During the Jacobite Wars in 1691, the only battle fought was in Tinnahinch. Eight hundred soldiers from King James’ army were sent in May to capture Mountmellick which was under the control of William of Orange. The Jacobean soldiers set up base at Brittas as the Dunnes of Brittas were supporters of King James.
Destroyed by a fire in 1942, Brittas House was a fine castellated house, built in 1869 by General Francis Plunkett Dunne to the design of architect John McCurdy and stands near the ancestral home of the O’Dunnes. The gate piers of the grand house still remain on the western edge of The Green. The walls and windows give an idea of the house’s architecture. It was three storeys high and the roof was thatched. On the wall over the main entrance, the family crest is still visible, it shows an eagle and a drawn sword. The last of the family to reside in Brittas House were two old ladies, daughters of Francis Plunkett Dunne. The house had extensive gardens, shrubberies and out-offices.
The links with Clonaslee village, and the remains of the Brittas Estate are strong. The expansive demesne grounds contain many splendid trees – remnants of the larger plantations Lawson’s cypress, copper beech, yew, sycamore, cut-leaved beech, and oak that covered much of the townland of Brittas over a century ago. Brittas Lake – which has recently been restored, was originally constructed as a reservoir for the House. Its banks are stone lined and water was pumped from the Clodiagh River. It is now a public amenity area.
19th Century Catholic Church
The Catholic Church of St. Manman’s is located off the Main Street on the Tullamore Road. It was built in 1813 by the Dunne family on the site of an old thatched chapel dating back to 1771. The building has a number of particularly fine features – including its fine iron gates and gate-piers and three altars made from Clonaslee cut stone. The church was renovated in 1955 and a bell, which came from the church in Daingean in Co. Offaly, was erected at the front of the church. The original bell, which bears the date 1720, was moved to the rear of the building. A new main altar was installed in 1955 – a gift from Rev. John Egan of Los Angeles.
Old Church of Ireland
The Protestant Church stood at the top of the main street. It was built in 1814, partially financed by a gift of £738.9s.2.75d. It was surmounted by a tower and spire. The last service was held there in 1988, after which the building was renovated and modified for use as a community centre. There are many interesting memorial plaques and an impressive stained-glass window to be seen in the church.
This old castle, two miles west of Clonaslee, beside the old slí or highway was, according to Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary, built by the first Sir Charles Coote in Elizabeth’s time on the lands of the Dunnes which had been granted to him. It was destroyed in the Confederate Wars in 1641. The walls still stand showing the strength of the building. Sir Charles Coote fought on Cromwell’s side during the wars 1649-52 but changed over to the monarchy so that he was appointed governor of Queen’s County with the title Earl of Mountrath.
Sir Charles married Dorothea, daughter of Hugh Cuffe, of Cuffe’s wood Co. Cork, a planter and he, presumably, as was customary with some of his fellow-grantees and planters, introduced the name “Castle Cuffe” as a token of esteem for Dorothea and her people. The old native name of the district was Ballynasagart (Baile na Sagart), which means the townland or home of the priest. (There is a small townland, Ballintaggart - Baile an tSagairt, the town or home of the priest - south of the townland of Brittas, two miles south-east of Mountmellick town). Castlecuffe House is now in ruins. It was situated in flat low-lying land. It was a large limestone-built house and it was rectangular in shape with projecting angles at south east and south west. It has Jacobean-type chimney stacks and associated fireplaces. There is no evidence of outer defences. It was built in the mid to late seventeenth century.